Stacking Functions Garden


Curing and storing hard-neck garlic

I harvested my garlic one week ago:

hard neck garlic freshly harvested

It was less than half my 2011 harvest. I simply planted less of it last fall, having had no plan and no time to come up with one. Last September-October was a crazy time at work for me (it settled down, thank goodness).

This is fun: I can now say, with confidence, that I know how much garlic is required to feed a family of 4 who really likes to cook with garlic. It is the precise amount that I planted in fall 2010 (~six 6-ft rows) and harvested in July 2011, one year ago. How do I know?  I had plenty on hand to plant for seed last October, gave some away as Christmas gifts, and had so much besides that it lasted until yesterday.

Last night we took the last handful of bulbs and roasted them in foil on the grill for a few minutes, then spread them on slices of baguette. A heavenly end to the 2011 garlic harvest.

Today I took the now-cured 2012 garlic harvest out of the garage and prepped it for long-term storage:

You know it’s ready when the tops have turned completely brown and the smell has diminished somewhat.

trimming hard neck garlic

With a sharp scissors, cut the stem down to 3-4 inches. Cut off the roots, and brush the dry dirt off. Try to remove as few of the papery layers as possible. Cut yourself some longish lengths of string and tie each bulb to it as you finish cleaning it.

There you have it, our garlic harvest for 2012 (layed out neatly on the trampoline). The string on the top of the picture has all the damaged bulbs. We will use them first—they don’t last quite as long. At least half of each damaged bulb is definitely still usable, though. We hang them in a warm, dry place right in our kitchen, and we’ve now proven that they last a good year this way.

No doubt, this fall I will have to buy seed garlic, but that’s OK. 2012 is going to be the year of the crazy shallot harvest, you heard it here first. (I can’t wait!)

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Raspberry jam with extras

A bit strange that with a 4 by 46 foot raspberry  hedge, I’ve never made jam. My mother-in-law makes so much jam that she supplies us year-round. Our dependency is so acute that Rowan once started crying inconsolably because we ran out and he didn’t know we could buy jam at the local grocery store.

Anyway, we’re in high raspberry season so I thought I’d give it a shot. Result: easy and delicious. I mostly followed this recipe, but cut back on the sugar and added the fresh herbs.

Raspberry jam with mint and/or basil
10 c. raspberries
7 c. sugar
~ 1 1/2 c. fresh basil or mint leaves

The ratio of sugar to berries here is roughly 3:4 so adjust your amounts according to how many fresh berries you pick. Next time I make this I am going to try for even less sugar, maybe more like 1:2.

Bring the berries to a boil in a large stock pot over medium-high heat, stirring frequently and mashing them as you go. Boil one minute, then add sugar. Return to the boil, turn down the heat a bit, and continue to boil, stirring relatively frequently.

Now. The recipe I was following said to heat up the sugar in the oven. I disagree; the sugar got really hard and difficult to handle.  The recipe also said that the jam would reach “gel” stage after 5 minutes of boiling. For me it was just shy of 20 minutes. I assume this was due to the lowered sugar amount.

While your jam is boiling away, chop your herbs.  I used a healthy 3/4 c. each of chocolate mint and basil.

When the jam reached gel stage — I followed the original recipe’s advice on how to tell — I poured half into each of the above bowls, gave it a stir, and ladled/poured it into clean, sterilized half-pint jars.

I found this to be easier with the mixing bowl that has a handle and spout, but a ladle works OK too.  I canned them in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.

There you have it. It set up even better after having a chance to sit out overnight. I’ve sampled both and can’t decide which I like better.  I will only say that the raspberry-mint seems like a good ice cream or chocolate zucchini cake topping while the raspberry-basil is going on either toast or polenta porridge.  Either way, good stuff and I’m glad I tried it!

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A Minnesota Solstice Salad

A backyard-foraged salad: ‘winter density’ lettuce, arugula, dill blossoms, nasturtiums, scallions, a mix of alpine and regular strawberries. The ultra-local theme fell apart when I dressed it with a bit of balsamic vinegar, but, wow. Delicious, especially with a Summit EPA. Happy Solstice!


Time to replace the thyme

If you’re not growing thyme, well, you’re really missing out. It’s a perennial even here in the northland. It tastes great in nearly everything, and is featured in many different regional cuisines. It has health benefits. There was even a restaurant in southwest Minneapolis for a few years called “Never Enough Thyme” — and it’s true.

I’ve written about home-grown thyme’s superiority to store-bought, and also showed you how we dry it. It’s true that thyme is a perennial, but it’s a short-lived one. Our main thyme plant was at least 3 years old this spring, and starting to look a bit ratty:

See all those woody stems with no leaves?  This thyme was past its prime. Fortunately new thyme plants are very inexpensive. I took this one out, and the leaves are drying right now in my super sophisticated herb drying system. Three new baby thymes are in its place:

Oregano to the lower right, sorrel in protective cage to the upper right, super invasive lemon drops to the left — I cannot eradicate those things!  This is a part-sun location fairly close to our large elm tree in front of our house.  I like growing lettuce and herbs in part-sun situations because they take longer to flower than in full sun.

There’s our thyme supply until about 2015 or 2016!


Recipe: Leftover Oatmeal Pancakes

I’ve been exploring leftover oatmeal recipes. Leftover oatmeal muffins were not a big hit, so last week I tried pancakes. I wanted a recipe that was more like oatmeal than pancakes, so I searched for one that called for more oatmeal than flour.  This one worked out great.  Here’s the original recipe; my version is below.

Leftover Oatmeal Pancakes
around 2 c. leftover oatmeal
1 c. whole milk
3-4 T. butter
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 c. flour
2 tsp. aluminum-free baking powder

Place the butter in a frying pan over low-med heat. Meanwhile, incorporate milk into leftover oatmeal until the lumps are mostly worked out. Add eggs, flour, and baking powder and stir, adding a bit more flour or milk until desired consistency.

When the butter’s all melted, pour it into the batter. Stir quickly while you pour, so you don’t cook the eggs. Now your pan is hot and buttered and your batter is ready.  Pour the pancakes in.  These were a bit more delicate than standard pancakes — they did best when I let them cook at least 3-4 minutes per side over lower heat.

Don’t they look marvelous?  I loved these.  If the leftover oatmeal that you use was sweetened, they need very little topping.  If it was plain, a bit of fruit or maple syrup would be lovely.  They look like a pancake, but the inside is creamy rather than cakey.  I loved them.  Rowan loved them.  Anneke said they were just OK, but she ate all of hers anyway.

People with texture issues might not be into a creamy-centered pancake. But if this sounds good to you you’ll probably like it.  If not, there are a lot of recipes out there that produce a more cakey result — think less oatmeal and more flour.

This made quite a few; we had them for breakfast and then I froze another entire breakfast’s worth and ate them a few days later.


Yogurt: oven method

When I started making yogurt 3 years ago, I had a hard time finding information and recipes.  Now the internets are practically exploding with yogurt methods — crock pot, oven, yogurt maker, heating pad, back seat of your car, you name it. Yes, there is even heirloom yogurt now. (Thanks, Christina!)

Anyway, as my kids kept getting bigger I started having to make yogurt with my little yogurt maker twice a week. I have limited time, so I put the yogurt maker away for a while. Here’s how we’re doing it, three years later:

Start with a 1/2 gallon of the best whole milk you can get your hands on. Heat it to just around the boiling point, or 180 degrees F. Remove from heat, plunge into a sink full of cold water, and bring the temperature back down to 110-115 degrees F.

Stir in a cup or so of yogurt from your last batch. Whisk.

My oven has a setting called “proofing” — for people who have time to bake bread (some day I’ll get back into it, sniff) — it holds the oven at around 100-110 degrees.  Perfect. I bake my yogurt overnight usually, around 8-9 hours. Simple, and it makes quite a bit — usually around 80 ounces.  Still no plastic to recycle (though now the city of Minneapolis does take yogurt containers).

A little chunky for ya? That’s what happens when you use non-homogenized milk. Doesn’t bother me, honestly. A solid week’s worth of full fat yogurt from grass-fed cows who live less than an hour away (and who I’ve actually met) for only about $5. Cool!


Recipe: Sorrel and Chive Soup

Finally had sorrel soup tonight. I’ve been looking forward to it, and it did not disappoint.  Well, it did disappoint a bit in the photography department — not the most photogenic soup I’ve ever made.  But it tasted great, and the 4YOs ate it willingly. I call that a victory.  It is based on Bittman’s Creamy Sorrel Soup recipe from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.

Sorrel and Chive Soup
2 T. butter
4 c. coarsely chopped sorrel
2 c. chicken stock
2 c. cream or milk
1/2 c. or more coarsely chopped chives

Heat the butter in a soup pot, then add the sorrel and chives and cook until the sorrel wilts. Add the stock and bring almost to a boil. Cook for a minute or two. Use an immersion blender to puree the greens.  Add milk or cream and heat until hot but not boiling. Season with salt and pepper. DONE.  EASY!

Ours turned out a bit thin because we used milk rather than cream. Hence the toasted cheese bread on the side.

About sorrel: sorrel is one of the few perennial greens we can grow up here in the northland. It can get quite big in full sun, as my friend Jodi‘s has.  My plant is actually from a division of hers, and it stays relatively small in my part-shade location.  But we get enough for a few pots of sorrel soup every year, anyway. I believe I have French Sorrel.  It really is delicious.

Spinach or watercress could also be substituted in this recipe.